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‘Exactly the Right Thing’

Posted on March 14, 2024 in: General News

‘Exactly the Right Thing’

Knights in North America show their unwavering solidarity with the Ukrainian people through material and spiritual support

3/12/2024

By Mary Christie

Source

To say that the war in Ukraine has resulted in a humanitarian crisis would be an understatement. Hundreds of thousands of families have been separated, displaced, or forced to leave the country. Hundreds of thousands of people are living day to day, feeling fear, hunger and uncertainty.

During these trying times, Knights of Columbus around the world have stepped into the breach, forming what Archbishop Mieczysław Mokrzycki of Lviv recently called a “chain of solidarity” to help victims of the war. While Knights in Ukraine and neighboring Poland have played the most direct role in delivering aid and supporting the vulnerable, councils in the United States and Canada have proven their impressive commitment to fulfilling the vision of Blessed Michael McGivney.

During the Supreme Convention last August, Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly recalled visiting Ukraine and talking to one of many displaced families, a mother and her two daughters. “On behalf of the entire Order, I made a promise to that family and every refugee I met: You are not alone. We are with you,” he said. “And the Knights of Columbus are not going anywhere!”

Many North American councils have gone above and beyond to keep that promise.

‘WE STAND WITH UKRAINE’

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the members of St. John the Baptist Council 10305 in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska, prayed for peace — but they wanted to do more.

“Almost immediately, we thought about doing a fundraiser,” said Michael Conrad, member of the council who was serving on the Knights of Columbus Board of Directors when the first councils were chartered in Ukraine in 2012. “So we got a team together and started planning.”

More than 250 people attended the council’s “We Stand With Ukraine” dinner in May 2022, which included a silent auction, a charity raffle and remarks from Ukrainian families. The event brought in more than $60,000 for the Ukraine Solidarity Fund, the charitable fund established by the Order within 36 hours of the invasion. To date, it has collected more than $22 million to help the people of Ukraine.

Conrad emphasized that the council’s efforts were simply part of the calling and mission of the Order: “This is what we do in our council. When something like this comes up, we need to step up and help our fellow men.”

The Knights in Nebraska didn’t stop there. After the success of the dinner, they raised another $15,000 for an orphanage for Ukrainian children in Częstochowa, Poland, operated by Caritas with K of C financial support.

The facility, which used to be an archdiocesan retreat center, now is home to more than 100 Ukrainian kids evacuated from two orphanages in Myrne and Melitopol in March 2022. Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly visited in April 2022, and Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William Lori was a special guest there later that year for the first Coats for Kids distribution in Poland.

Knights in Ontario, led by their Christian Refugee Relief director, Hikmat Dandan, have also contributed to the orphanage. Their donation of CA$5,000 was presented March 7 at an event on the second anniversary of its opening.

“This is what Blessed Michael McGivney established our Order to do: to help the widows and orphans,” Dandan said. “This is our duty as Knights. Most importantly, this is what Jesus wants.”

Dandan noted that a big part of his job is raising awareness and giving people ways to contribute. To do that, he established a website that allows Ontario councils and individual Knights to direct funds specifically to the orphanage.

“Many of these councils want to help, but they do not know where to begin,” he said. “I try to get the word out to as many people as I can.”

Supreme Warden Andrzej Anasiak attended the orphanage anniversary event with Poland State Chaplain Archbishop Wacław Depo of Częstochowa.

“The Knights of Columbus is building a bridge between those in need and those who want to help,” Anasiak said. “We help constantly, we do not stop helping. First in charity and first in faith.”

PERSEVERANCE IN PRAYER

It is on these two pillars — charity and faith — that the Order’s relief efforts for Ukraine are based. The Knights have shown that the Catholic response to this immense humanitarian crisis must include action and prayer.

Beginning Feb. 15, 2024, the Supreme Council led an international novena for peace and healing in Ukraine to mark the second anniversary of the war. It was a culmination of the prayer initiatives of many local Knights, who, in their councils and parishes, have been begging the Lord for an end to hostilities for the last two years.

An especially inspiring and creative sign of spiritual support was an initiative led by Pope John Paul I Council 7565 in Norristown, Pennsylvania. The Knights put together a “spiritual bouquet” consisting of 222 Masses and 260 rosaries for the intention of the Ukrainian people and the end of the war, and they arranged for a card symbolizing their prayers to be given to Ukraine State Deputy Youriy Maletskiy.

“We all wanted the Ukrainians to feel they had our support,” explained council member Robert Hehn, who proposed the idea.

The Knights of St. Mary’s Norton (Massachusetts) Council 11690 similarly offered a “spiritual bouquet” for Ukrainian families and children: They dedicated their First Friday devotions to that intention, said multiple rosary novenas, and prayed together in front of an icon of St. Joseph on Feb. 25-26, just after the first anniversary of the Russian invasion.

The power of persevering prayer is well understood by the community of St. Francis de Sales Parish in Purcellville, Virginia, where St. Francis Council 11136 is established. Their pastor, Father James Gould, has led a rosary for peace in Ukraine almost every night since the war started, and the prayer service is livestreamed for the whole community to join.

Knights are instrumental to making this happen. They prepare the church for the service, setting up the camera and lighting for the broadcast. They sometimes step in to lead the prayer, along with a group of other parishioners, if other pastoral duties demand Father Gould’s attention.

EVERY BIT COUNTS

Some councils have found new and creative ways to raise funds for Ukraine; others have adapted longstanding activities in service to the cause.

Michael Hammond, deputy grand knight of Canon John Burke Council 6217 in Nepean, Ontario, was moved by the suffering he saw in Ukraine and motivated to action by the Order’s establishment of the Ukraine Solidarity Fund.

“I thought it was exactly the right thing that our organization could be doing,” he said.

Working with his brother Knights and drawing on his wife’s connections, Hammond organized a benefit concert featuring a brass quintet and local violin students. What was at first intended to be a parish charity event quickly grew in scope as Hammond reached out to invite local Christian communities of different denominations. Among those present were even Ukrainian refugee families who had just arrived in the Ottawa area.

“It ended up becoming a community event, which was much larger than our council, much larger than our parish community,” Hammond said. The concert raised more than $1,800 for the Ukraine Solidarity Fund.

Meanwhile, Msgr. Paul Martin Council 7519 in San Juan Capistrano, California, dedicated one of its regular Friday Lenten dinners last year to the support of those suffering in Ukraine. They set out collection boxes on each table for any donations parishioners were able to give.

Through this event alone, Council 7519 raised $2,000 for the Ukraine Solidarity Fund, to which Knights added “their own generous direct donations,” said Grand Knight Ed Matthews.

“Seeing what the Knights in Poland were doing to help support the people was very moving,” Matthews explained. “We knew that it was something that we needed to get behind and help with.”

GOING FORWARD

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has not only spurred one of the largest relief efforts in Knights of Columbus history, it has awakened in many local councils enormous dedication to the first principles of the Order: charity, unity and fraternity.

It also has given members a way to prove the reality of the fraternal bond among Knights around the world.

“I think it is the best initiative I have been a part of in my council,” said Michael Hammond of Council 6217 in Ontario.

The needs of Ukrainians who remain in their country are growing and changing. After two years of war, direct aid for urgent needs such as food, shelter and medical assistance is no longer sufficient. It is also necessary to give psychological and spiritual support to widows and orphans, whose number is growing at an alarming rate; to the wounded who overflow Ukrainian hospitals; and to young people who entered adulthood during their homeland’s fight for independence.

One thing that can bring them comfort and hope is the unwavering commitment of the Knights of Columbus and their willingness to sacrifice for the mission entrusted to them by Father Michael McGivney.

When asked about the need for further help, however small, for victims of war in Ukraine, Robert Hehn of Council 7565 had no doubts: “The smallest efforts can give so much hope to those people, even if they are halfway across the world,” he said. “It is our way of showing we are united with them. It can make a big difference and give them strength and let them know we are there for them.”

To learn more about our work in Ukraine and to support those efforts, visit kofc.org/ukraine.

*****

MARY CHRISTIE writes from Kraków, Poland.


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